Using beats to break stigma

Hip-hop is providing a new service to its artists and listeners alike.

The association of hip hop with mental wellness is timely and important. Stigma around mental illness continues to be a help-seeking deterrent, particularly in the male population, where counselling-seeking is low. In a 2014 article, Levy and Keum explored the idea that, traditionally, men showing emotion has been considered a sign of weakness. Hip hop, and the rap music that emerged from hip hop culture as a form of self-expression, is male-dominated and popular worldwide. Rap provides a perfect vehicle to combat this stereotype of weakness, using hip hop lyricism as a form of narrative therapy, where rappers can use lyrics in a healthy and cathartic way to express their emotions and write about mental states.

A recent study showed that the amount of mental health references in rap songs has increased significantly over the past couple of decades. Top charted songs commonly reference:

  • Anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction, and the debilitating effects of those conditions

  • Suicidal thinking
  • Financial hardships

  • The daily grind and competition of working in the music industry

  • Responses to urgent societal or political problems

  • Family, friend, or romantic partner dynamics or loss

Normalizing the conversation lyric by lyric

Kid Cudi, Kanye West, and Logic are just a few of the artists that get real about mental health on and off stage.  In Kid Cudi’s 2016 song Wounds, he speaks a message on depression from traumatizing events in his life (like losing his father).

“For a long time, I wasn’t happy when I woke up in the morning,” the artist said in a Red Table Talk interview. “I’m trying to keep it together because I’m Kid Cudi, everybody’s like, hero (…) and I don’t feel like that. It’s like doing a comedy but you’re miserable.” He explains that he was unsure if his down and confusing feelings were because of stress, since he was constantly on tour, which led him to cope with drug use, and then rehab. Cudi has also been vocal about talking to a therapist, something he’s mentioned he would never have done years ago.

We all have times when we weep
It’s a troubled life, traumatized psychologically
I pray in the shadows when I’m speakin’ to no one
Myself, did everything right, didn’t I?
So why aren’t I whole?”

Kid cudi

In rapper Logic’s hit song 1-800-273-8255 that features Alessia Cara and Khalid, he opened up about struggles about depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts that he has experienced himself and seen others go through.

rapper Logic
I’ve been on the low, I been taking my time
I feel like I’m out of my mind
It feel like my life ain’t mine (Who can relate? Woo)
I’ve been on the low, I been taking my time
I feel like I’m out of my mind
It feel like my life ain’t mine


Calls to the suicide hotline grew by 50% following the rapper’s MTV Video Music Awards performance of the song which over five and a half million people watched. People joined Logic on stage in t-shirts that read “you’re not alone”, an important message for viewers.

“Hip Hop Therapy” is a form of music therapy that specifically considers the impact of the hip hop genre on its listeners. A diverse range of artists, beats, lyrics and musical forms fall within the hip hop umbrella. This means hip hop can work as a form of therapy for a wide range of people, including listeners as well as singers. The Hip Hop Therapy approach is called positive visual imagery and consists of a technique where a person listening to or making a song can visualize how they would like their future to look (a bit like manifestation), in an attempt to promote the person getting to a better mental space and feeling a greater sense of control. This sort of approach is most likely to be used by listeners of songs with a rags-to-riches narrative.

In a world where we are becoming increasingly aware of the prevalence of mental health issues and mental illness, using music to communicate honestly with fans around the globe means rappers can raise awareness about serious issues to do with mental health while listeners feel connected, heard and not alone.



Elizabeth Wulf

Say hello to Elisabeth Wulf, our new Content Marketer, Editorial

Elisabeth is a recent graduate from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota where she studied psychology and communications. She is pursuing a career in marketing, community engagement, and communications-related fields. Elisabeth is passionate about mental health and breaking the stigma surrounding mental health needs. If she could do anything right now, you’d catch her at a concert festival because music is healing.

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